Hoseasons parent Awaze has began bringing trade partners back on board to “put Britain back on sale” after switching them off temporarily as the Covid-19 crisis hit.
Speaking in a Travel Weekly Webcast, Henrik Kjellberg, chief executive of Awaze, said it was starting this week to reactivate its bigger partners before moving on to everyone else.
He said it was necessary to stop sales as lockdown was imposed because its systems were not designed built to cope with the volume of inquiries from customers looking to cancel and rebook.
Awaze had to furlough many of its contact centre staff but says it is working on bringing people back as bookings begin to come in for this year and 2021.
“When this mass cancellation happened, we realised there were a lot of grey areas in terms of how we were working with partners,” said Kjellberg.
“It wasn’t immediately apparent who was responsible for what. Normally we have a very small percentage of cancellations, so you deal with them on a one-on-one basis.
“But the terms and conditions issues, the complexity this created for us was very hard because we had fewer staff to deal with it. So, we put the brakes on everything.
“As of this week we’re starting to turn things back on. I don’t have the full team back yet because although bookings are increasing it’s still very small volumes and I can’t afford to bring them back.
“We’re gradually working through that issue starting with major partners and then we’ll work through the list.
“We want to do it in a way where we have the capacity to do it and we help all of our community to put Britain back on sale.”
Kjellberg said Awaze brands have a long history of working with third party agents and the pandemic was an opportunity to reassess how they work with trade partners.
He said in the near future flexibility of booking and refund terms will be key and agents could prove valuable communicating essential information like health and safety as well as educating the public about the UK.
“One important thing for us is guests will want to book with flexibility,” Kjellberg said.
“We have to make sure we set ourselves up for a situation where payment terms work so consumers feel safe to book because that is a driver of whether or not you get the booking.
“Even on our website we collected the money ten weeks ahead of arrival. We’re shortening that substantially because people are very uncomfortable with final payments weeks ahead.
“We’ll have to make sure those terms and conditions apply with our key partners as well.”
Kjellberg said agents that will add value to domestic operators will be those who use their knowledge to communicate about travelling responsibly and to a wider range of destinations.
“It’s all about knowledge,” he said. “There’s tonnes of value agents could add in telling people how we’re operating in a safe and responsible manner.
“There are more counties in the UK than there are countries in Europe so there’s a lot to explore here, and there’s a lot to learn.
“Plus, there’s no air travel, you’re not burning aviation fuel, so it’s perfect for the environment and the local economies.
“I think finding the not so obvious honey pots in the UK would be a great value agents could add.”